Science and Pseudoscience in Psychology:
Thinking Critically About Human Behavior

Instructor: Scott Lilienfeld
Emory University

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TABLE OF CONTENTS


COURSE OVERVIEW

This course is designed to provide students with some of the skills needed to critically evaluate fringe-science, paranormal, and otherwise unusual claims about human behavior that often appear in the popular media. In this course, we will place particular emphasis on how that remarkable, but fallible, information processor called the human brain sometimes leads us astray in our reasoning processes. Among the issues covered will be extrasensory perception (ESP), subliminal perception and persuasion, astrology, "recovered memories" of child abuse and alien abduction, hypnosis, sleep-assisted learning, "brain tuners" and purported memory-enhancing drugs, multiple personality disorder, graphology (handwriting analysis), palmistry (palm reading), bogus personality assessment, polygraphy (lie detection), and controversial therapeutic techniques (e.g., facilitated communication, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; psychoanalysis). Examples of pseudoscience and questionable science will be drawn from both traditional areas of psychology as well as physiological psychology and neuroscience.

In all cases, students will be encouraged to keep an open mind concerning any and all controversial claims, but to insist on a high standard of evidence before accepting them. The overarching motto of this course will be Hume's dictum: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Skepticism implies open-mindedness. But students will be urged to remember James Oberg's warning that an open mind is a virtue, "but not so open that one's brains fall out."


SYLLABUS

INTRODUCTION

UNIT ONE

  • Basic issues in the philosophy of science
  • Pitfalls in research design
  • Readings:
    Hines (Ch. 1)
    Stanovich (Ch. 1-2)
    Shermer (Prologue and Ch. 1-2)
    Sagan (on reserve)
    Frazier (Ch. 1, 23)

UNIT TWO

  • Where our thinking goes wrong (I):
    The fallibility of human reasoning
  • Readings:
    Gilovich (Ch. 1-4)
    Frazier (Ch. 22)
    Kruger et al. (on reserve)
    Gawande (on reserve)
    Gazzaniga (on reserve)

UNIT THREE

  • Where our thinking goes wrong (II):
    The fallibility of human reasoning
  • Readings:
    Gilovich (Ch. 5-7)
    Stanovich (Ch. 5, 9)
    Shermer (Ch. 3)
    Sagan (on reserve)
    Lett (on reserve)

UNIT FOUR

  • Where our thinking goes wrong (III):
    The fallibility of human reasoning
  • Readings:
    Gilovich (Ch. 8-11)
    Frazier (Ch. 21)
    Stanovich (Ch. 10, 11)
    Blackmore (on reserve)
  • One page paper proposal due

UNIT FIVE

  • Parapsychology (I):
    Psychics; out of body experiences
  • Readings:
    Hines (Ch. 2, 3)
    Stanovich (Ch. 4)
    Shermer (Ch. 4-5)
    Frazier (Ch. 25, 32, 33)
    Rowe (on reserve)
  • Short Test # 1

UNIT SIX

  • Parapsychology (II):
    Research evidence
  • Readings:
    Hines (Ch. 4)
    Frazier (Ch. 27-29)
    Bem and Honorton (on reserve)
    Milton and Wiseman (on reserve)

UNIT SEVEN

  • Astrology
  • Biorhythms
  • The lunar effect
  • Readings:
    Hines (Ch. 6)
    Frazier (Ch. 26)
    Stewart (on reserve)
    Ertel (on reserve)
    Nienhuys (on reserve)
    Randi (on reserve)
    Kelly et al. (on reserve)

UNIT EIGHT

  • Brain myths:
    Subliminal perception and persuasion
    Alpha consciousness
    “brain tuners”
    Sleep-assisted learning
    Lucid dreaming
    Transcendental meditation
  • Readings:
    Hines (pp. 309-317)
    Frazier (Ch. 30-31, 34)
    Moore (on reserve)
    Beyerstein (on reserve)
    Logie and Della Salla (on reserve)
  • Turn in term paper drafts for feedback
  • Optional field trip to Whole Life Expo after class

UNIT NINE

  • Lie Detection
  • Issues in the Detection of Deception
  • "Honesty" testing
  • Truth serum
  • Readings:
    Hines: pp. 304-306
    Frazier (Ch. 14, 15)
    Ekman (on reserve)
    Lykken (on reserve)
    Piper (on reserve)
  • Short Test #2

UNIT TEN

  • Uses and abuses of personality assessment
  • Projective techniques
  • Graphology
  • Palmistry
  • Readings:
    Hines: pp. 294-297
    Furnham (on reserve)
    French et al. (on reserve)
    Chapman & Chapman (on reserve)
    Lilienfeld (on reserve)
    Park (on reserve)

UNIT ELEVEN

  • Psychotherapy
  • Controversial therapeutic techniques
  • New Age therapies
  • Readings:
    Hines: Ch. 5
    Stanovich (Ch. 6, 12)
    Dawes (on reserve)
    Frazier (Ch. 36)
    Lilienfeld (on reserve)
    Singer and Lalich (on reserve)

UNIT TWELVE

  • The fallibility of memory:
    False memory syndrome
    Alien abductions
  • Uses and abuses of hypnosis
  • Multiple personality disorder
  • Readings:
    Shermer (Ch. 6, 7, 17)
    Frazier (Ch. 44-46)
    Blackmore (on reserve)
    Loftus (on reserve)
    Lynn et al. (on reserve)
    Nash (on reserve)
    Spanos (two articles on reserve)
  • Final Term Paper Due

FINAL EXAM


REQUIRED READING MATERIAL

  •          Hines, T. (1988). Pseudoscience and the paranormal: A critical examination of the evidence. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
  •          Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn't so: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life. New York: The Free Press.
  •          Stanovich, K. (1998). How to think straight about psychology (5th edition). New York: Harper/Collins.
  •          Shermer, M. (1997). Why people believe weird things: Pseudoscience, superstition, and other confusions of our time. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  •          Frazier, K. (1998). Encounters with the paranormal: Science, knowledge, and belief. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.